“The racial wealth gap in the United States is shocking, the average wealth of a white American family is $170,000, nearly 10 times that of the average wealth African-American family,” observes Kedra Newsom Reeves, consultant at Boston Consulting Group. Climate change impacts are posed to tilt that imbalance even further. More than 1 in 2 black families live in areas that are worst hit by the observed and expected impacts climate change in America. Oftentimes, black families also have little access to risk mitigation mechanisms such as insurance for property or personal health to mitigate against climate risks. Consequently, climate disasters are likely to further erode the limited black family wealth even further.
According to official U.S. Census records, the Black American population currently stands at over 15% of the total population but is growing rapidly. It has increased by over 80% since 2010. Over 55% of this population however lives in the America’s Southern states – these are the same regions that have also been worst hit by billion-dollar climate disasters as illustrated below;
Overall, the historical coincidence of high concentrations of black American families within the areas that are hit hardest by climate change disasters presents enormous challenges. However, hidden within those same climate challenges could be important opportunities for the U.S to equalize the elusive wealth gap between its white and black families. But where could these opportunities for equality be at the state and federal levels?
Opportunities to Equalize Wealth through Climate Action:
Abundant opportunities exist at the state and federal levels to equalize wealth, particularly through supporting better education and career outcomes for black families; this is a fail-safe solution. A report by Genesis (2014) estimated that 50% of the jobs we will need in the next 10 years do not exist today; whatever those jobs will be, America will be stronger and more resilient if those jobs incorporate the best and latest climate scientific knowledge and innovation. Therefore, education on climate solutions and career support on the same can be a powerful means of developing an African American workforce that is best suited for a future where climate change will be a decisive factor in successful employment and job outcomes. Support in education and career opportunities at federal and state levels can take many forms. Still, it could include, among others, proactive internships, scholarships/fellowships, and career pathways that seek to equalize the training of a well-qualified black workforce, which will be effective in deploying the innovative climate solutions that Americans need today and in the foreseeable future. Several climate resilience sectors could be helpful in this regard, including, among others, renewable energy services, energy efficiency, circular economy reforestation programs, and other nature-based solutions at home and abroad. These new jobs will also require the creative application of artificial intelligence and social and emotional intelligence.
Federal and state affirmative action policies can go a long way toward expanding opportunities for young black Americans to choose and stay in well-paying careers that at the same time address climate change. Black families and the black community at large have a role to play, too. Black parents must take a more proactive role in encouraging their children and young members to select careers directly linked to the climate solutions sector. At the very least black families should encourage their young members to incorporate a climate lens to whatever career they choose.
It is evident that how the U.S. responds to the climate challenge could strongly affect how the world addresses climate change globally. The same climate solutions sector that has over time concentrated wealth within its white citizens and deprived black families of similar opportunities can serve as a lever to correct historical and structural inequality. Through education coupled with proactive action among black families at the individual and community level – the U.S. can transform climate change into an engine of opportunity and advance social equity.
Robert Ddamulira, Ph.D., is the CEO & Founder of GreenPesa LLC.